Published by graham on Sun, 10/27/2013 - 17:40
They say that luck runs in families. I’m not sure about that except that we’re blessed with three exceptional boys, now men, all of whom have saved up the real surprises for their mid-life years.
Woodie has abandoned the comforts of Western capitalism for a berth in Bangkok. He has a seventeenth floor view of the city, an empty pool to keep him fit, rock-bottom rent, and a delightful Thai girlfriend. After longish spells in the UK and Sydney, this finally feels like real life.
Jack has weathered nearly a decade at the sharpest end of mental health care in Leeds and is now in respite care while he tackles the foothills of a career as a writer. His old man naturally cautioned him against expecting any kind of short cut to a decent living so – for the time being – he’s parked the novel in favour of designing T-shirts. With, I have to say, some success.
But the real surprise is our eldest son, Tom. Tom is Mr Outdoors. He’s also Mr Practical. There isn’t any kind of hands-on challenge that won’t lie down and surrender to his astonishing range of skills. Which is just one of the reasons he and a mate – Pete Johns – decided to kayak the length of the Thames, from the cradle in Cricklade to what we all hoped wouldn’t be the grave (a stretch of notoriously kayak-eating water just this side of the Thames barrage).
They scheduled the trip for last summer, happily co-inciding with a monster ridge of high pressure which tracked them downstream. Tom being Tom, he’d pretty much anticipated every eventuality en route from death by pike-attack to sustained periods of torrential July rain. Given the fact that they were camping en route, the latter might have been less than welcome but thanks to the high pressure the real challenge was the heat. Most days the lads had drunk their bodyweight in isotonics by lunchtime. Beyond thirst, he says in retrospect, is no place to hang around.
The journey took them nine days and they returned with tales from the riverbank and memories of that final seventeen mile dash to slip through the tidal gate that is Central London and emerge unscathed at the other end. Avoiding monster barges, tourist boats and the odd semi-submerged body on the lower Thames isn’t for the faint-hearted but Tom and Pete stepped ashore at Greenwich pretty much intact. The fact that they made it in such style I suspect we took for granted. The real surprise is the book Tom wrote several months later.
It’s called Kayaking the Thames: from a Devon pub to the Meridian Line. That he wrote it at all is a tribute to the journey’s impact: every page is suffused with the kind of pride that can only come from the knowledge that you’ve fashioned something memorable from a great deal of sweat and a great deal of planning. The latter Tom was determined to share and so the book is an open-invitation to any male with blood in his veins to fold his dreams into a series of cunningly packed holdalls, make his way to a picturesque village called Cricklade, launch his precious kayak, and head downstream.
Everything a chap could possibly want is in these pages: pub and campsite recommendations, various lock protocols, hints on clothing and maps, even the arcane rules of the road for the tidal Thames as it passes through central London itself. In short, my Hero Paddler has offered the Wage Slave and the Family Man a passport to the voyage of his (or her) dreams.
Christmas is coming. You want to get rid of your husband/partner/wife/mistress for a week and a bit. Buy them a download of Kayaking the Thames and see what happens. The price of changing your Loved One’s life? Just £2.05. From Kindle.